3.5 out of 5 stars
Life is messy and everyone responds to the things of this world differently. This can be seen in the current focus on the issues of mental health within our culture. No person responds in cookie-cutter fashion when it comes to the struggles of the human heart. In his latest cinematic excursion, Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) shows how a couple works through the emotional and relational toll that comes with losing a child.
We are introduced to the Maynards after one of the most horrific events that could happen to any parent, as they respond to the death of their daughter. Each has taken a different path through the grief process. Jack (Chris O'Dowd) works through things at a state mental facility. At the same time, Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) continues to operate in the ‘real world.’ She works as an assistant manager in the local grocery store and must work through her loss alone in their family home. As her husband pulls further into himself and isolates himself within the walls of the institution, Lilly tries to get her life back on track by reclaiming their garden. Until she is attacked by a territorial starling who is trying to protect his family's nest.
This leads her to reach out to a former psychiatrist who had left the profession to become a veterinarian. Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline) was recommended to Lilly by Jack’s counsellor. Still, he was resistant to help the grieving woman once he discovered her situation. Until he began to make the connection between her journey and that of the bird that was terrorising her. Larry starts to talk with Lilly as she tries to deal with her loss and her husband's struggles. These individuals must work through their past to move forward into an uncertain future and determine if they can do it together.
(Warning: This film does contain depictions of suicide, death and mental health)
As the reality of grief's confusing and unpredictable nature, The Starling can be interpreted as messy. While this complex story touches on the heart of this human experience. Matt Harris’ screenplay tries to show that there can be humorous moments within the somber and tragic elements. A unique combination that is heavily reliant on the dramatic and comedic abilities of McCarthy, Dowd and Kline. A tour de force who work hard to show these aspects of grief while reaching into the emotional side of this mental state. Each of these veteran actors do all they can to give life to this story and give us a glimpse of how different people address grief and loss.
This may not be the best option for weekend viewing for those working through the loss of a child or wrestling with mental illness. Even though it does show how, through the chaotic experiences that these issues bring into people’s worlds, that some things will make you laugh, and there is potential hope throughout the journey. They do not rely heavily on foul language and most of the tragic scenes are nuanced, which may make the realists of the critic’s world judge this film harshly. Yet, it shows that there can be a way out of these dark days and it is done best when people work together through it all.
REEL DIALOGUE: What do we do with grief?
The Starling brings grief to the forefront of people's lives. Regret, tears, anger, laughter, and confusion are some of the emotions that come along during this time in those who lose a loved one. Even though this story shows how messy the grieving process can be, it offers hope within the process.
While discussing this with my daughter, she brought up how this experience would be more difficult without faith in God. This is a genuine question to consider. Even though people can achieve peace despite their faith position, there is something worth asking about what the Bible offers. One thing that can be regarded as about the message of Jesus' story is that God is not only there for those who grieve, but that he can also empathise with them. His Son died a horrific death, and it allows people to know that they can come to a God who knows how they feel during this low in their lives.
If you are travelling through the grieving process and would like to consider how faith in God can play a role in healing. Two places to engage with this possibility are in the Psalms and the biography of Jesus written by John.